Andy let his sister sleep while he showered and dressed, and then, when he saw that she was still asleep, he left her to go down to breakfast. He felt lucky to be one of the last people at breakfast; only a newlywed couple was still at one of the tables, nibbling on each other more than they were nibbling on their croissants. The near silence gave him a chance to think and to begin the planning he should have done before he’d packed up his sister.
He took a long drink of black coffee and stared blindly out the window. The past few days felt like a complete blur; there had barely been time to breathe let alone piece together a coherent thought. That was probably why he’d come back to Saint Amour; it had been pure instinct that led him back to the place he and Sara had called home. She needed to heal, and despite some desperately bad memories, he knew she didn’t associate the town with those. There had been too many happy years, too many friends, too many joyful moments, for Sara to paint Saint Amour with a black brush.
So, that left him with several other problems, the basic being lodging, the long term being monetary. He should contact a realtor and try to find a house that was furnished if possible. He certainly had enough savings to put a healthy down payment on a nice home; and Sara needed a safe, stable place to be. They could survive at least a year on his investments, but he would drain his accounts completely if they went any longer than that. He had planned to live on those savings for the few months it took him to finish his book, before he looked for another position, but that wasn’t going to happen now. Their best bet would be for him to find a job in the next few months; maybe the high school was looking for a counselor. With his credentials and degree, he would have a good shot at that particular position. Of course, he could always set up a private practice; the only problem was, people in a small town would be afraid to be seen or associated with a psychologist, which meant little to no patients. Maybe he could talk the local radio station into hiring him as a talk show expert; radio psychologists were very popular these days.
He gave a disgusted sigh as he shook his head. What was he thinking? That they could use this town as an indefinite hideout? It was a mark of his desperation to find himself planning just that. He knew better than this. He knew they could only stay here for so long before she absolutely had to go back. It was the whole aftermath that worried him; he supposed that in some way, he was planning for that inevitability. She would still need a place to be, a soft place to land, and Andy had every intention of providing that for her. There were so many plans that had to go beyond just today, though he understood they were lucky for every day they had.
All of that, he decided as he tucked into his eggs, would have to wait. After he had Sara settled in, he would begin worrying about the whys and wherefores. First a house, and then a bicycle. Sara had always loved riding her bicycle. They’d had to leave it behind, but that emptiness, at least, he could fill again.
He was lifting the fork to his mouth when he saw the man walking through the front door. His body went completely still in shock, the eggs cooling not more than an inch away from his lips. His heart stopped, stuttered, then stumbled into a wild beat.
Jebediah Law. His presence was as it had always been, surrounding the room with authority and strength, intoxicating anyone who happened to be in the vicinity. He could tell, even through the tan, boxy uniform, that Jeb’s body was as honed as it had been years before. His hair was still thick, still as black and lush as velvet. He watched as Jeb’s mouth moved, curled slowly at one corner in a crooked smile, charming the matronly innkeeper. She fluttered and tittered, blushing slightly as he talked smoothly to her.
He remembered the sound of Jeb’s voice, the way he used it to coax and cajole. Andy would have done practically anything when he spoke to him like that. But that was before, he reminded himself. The last month of their relationship had been hell for both of them, and he hadn’t been willing to keep one foot in the fires of Hades. He supposed Jeb hadn’t been, either, though Andy was truthful enough to admit that he hadn’t stayed around to find out. Strange that he hadn’t considered the fact that Jeb would still be here. He’d talked about leaving so often that Andy had assumed he’d eventually go. Obviously he hadn’t; instead, he’d opted to stay, and had plainly worked his way up in the very small Saint Amour police force. There had been no New York for Jebediah, no Boston, no Philadelphia, not even New Haven, or Hartford. No, Jeb was right here, as proud and gorgeous as ever.
Slowly, Andy put his fork back down on his plate and straightened his back. Any second now, Jeb would turn and see him. There would be no hiding from him, not that he could, or that he should. If he and Sara were going to stay in this town, then he and Jeb would have to get this first meeting out of the way. Better here, in public.
Andy watched, queasy with terrified anticipation, as Jeb’s body pivoted toward the small dining room. Then suddenly Jeb’s dark eyes were locked with his. He was paralyzed, held captive in his seat while Jeb stared into him. He forgot to breathe, forgot time and place, forgot the sordid past and the desperate present. There was only the moment, and Jeb.
He hadn’t realized the other man had moved until he was standing directly over him. Still Jeb didn’t talk; his gaze was too busy searching Andy’s face, looking for changes, he supposed.
Jeb’s deep, dark voice reached down to tighten his balls, exciting Andy’s body in the way it always did. There was nothing that could stop his reaction; not even time had dampened his body’s instant desire when Jeb was so close.
“Jeb,” he finally replied, surprised that his voice was steady.
The other man crossed his arms over his chest and shifted his weight. “I’m surprised to see you here.”
“I could say the same.”
Jeb merely lifted a dark eyebrow at his comment. “Decide to come back for a visit?”
“Something like that.” Andy swallowed, knowing that eventually Jeb would find out he was staying on a more permanent basis. He wouldn’t hear it from him, though.
“If you’re looking for your stepfather, he left last year. No one knows what happened to him. Disappearing without warning must be a family trait.”
The words were spoken softly, so that only Andy could hear it. But the heat in the statement was there, smoking just underneath the surface. He refused to have an argument here, where strangers would become much too interested in his private life. He stood, carefully putting his linen napkin on the table.
“Why don’t we talk in the other room?” Andy suggested.
He didn’t turn to see if Jeb followed him into the inn’s library, but he could feel him not more than a few inches behind. He was barely in the cozy room when he heard the pocket doors being closed. Obviously, Jeb wanted privacy as well.
“I didn’t come back for trouble,” Andy said as he turned to face the other man.
Jeb’s eyes narrowed, his jaw visibly clenching. “Just exactly why did
you come back, Andy?”
It was a question he couldn’t answer, but one to which Jeb would demand an answer. What was he supposed to say? What excuse would be good enough to slake the curiosity of his ex-lover?
“This is my home as much as it is yours, Jeb. Sara and I wanted to come back, and so we did.”
“I thought you hated Saint Amour, with the way you two left.”
“I didn’t think you’d notice.” Andy almost cringed when he heard the bitterness that had crept into his words. “I recall you weren’t exactly thrilled with the small-town life.”
Jeb shrugged, as if it didn’t matter. “I was younger, and I had a man who said he didn’t want to stay. Maybe I was just trying to convince myself that I didn’t want to stay here, either.”
Andy’s breath caught and held for a moment, his mind wild with implications. Then he remembered the last weeks of their relationship, and his hopes plummeted. “I guess that didn’t matter in the end.”
“I guess not.”
“You should be glad that I left.”
Jeb’s eyebrows drew together. “Excuse me?”
Andy tried his best to look nonchalant. “If I’d stayed, you might have left when you shouldn’t have. I know the last month that we were together wasn’t easy for you. I can see now that you wanted to stay, and being with me, when I was so sure that I didn’t want to be here, was hard for you.”
“Is that right?”
The skepticism in his words made Andy stop for a moment. “If it wasn’t that, then why were you such an ass?”
Jeb’s face became dark as he propped his fists on his hips, the leather of his gun belt creaking. “I was an ass?”
Andy was too addled from the past few days to back down. He should have, but instead he plowed on. “Yeah, you were. Not showing up for dates, coming by the house drunk at two in the morning, avoiding my calls, ignoring my e-mails… Do I need to keep going?”
“As I recall, Andy, you missed a few of those dates, too.”
The guilt about his sister was there, like it always was when he thought of those years, but he pushed it aside. “I was in college, in another town; I couldn’t help it if I couldn’t always make it back.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“What?” Andy narrowed his gaze and cocked his head.
“Nothing,” Jeb bit out.
Andy was dangerously close to losing his temper, which would be extremely bad timing. He wasn’t going to let this man break him apart again. He couldn’t survive that sort of pain again, and Sara needed him to be whole.
“Sara and I are moving back, Jeb. I hope there isn’t a problem with that.” If he hadn’t been so twisted inside, Andy might have been able to keep himself from admitting the truth he’d only moments before sworn he wouldn’t tell Jeb.
“Problem,” Jeb whispered just under his breath. “The man wants to know if there’s a problem.”
Andy opened his mouth to try to ease some of the tension, but before he could speak he was dragged into a pair of strong arms. He had a split second to stare into Jeb’s hot eyes before his lips were covered, devoured so completely that he slipped out of reality. Suddenly, it was only him and Jeb, and the all the wild feelings he created.
When Jeb’s tongue reached out, Andy readily opened his mouth, meeting him thrust for thrust. Control was only a shadow of a thought as Jeb’s hands smoothed down his back to clasp his butt. Jeb jerked him forward, pressing his erection into him, deftly rubbing his hard ridge against him. Andy’s fingers dug into Jeb’s back, holding on for dear life as all the remembered sensations coursed through his blood.
Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it ended and Andy was pushed away from the hard body he was reveling in. He gasped for air, grabbing the desk that stood behind him for support. His body was screaming in denial, desperate for more of Jeb and what he could make him feel.
“It’s a problem,” Jeb said, his voice gravelly. “You want to move back, Andy, you remember this. If you stay, I can’t promise I’ll keep my hands to myself, but don’t expect us to have what we did before. Stay and face the possibility of dealing with me, or leave like you did before. It’s your choice.”
With that, Jeb turned on his heel and strode out the doors, leaving Andy slumping against the desk. His head fell forward, his chin smacking into his chest.
“Choice? I don’t have a choice, Jeb. I never really did.”